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'Modern Family' recap: Happy hands-giving!

November 25, 2010 |  7:15 am


We all want to be liked by our in-laws, but is it possible for them to like us a little too much?  This was the dilemma Mitchell struggled with on Wednesday night's "Modern Family." When Cameron announces that his mother, Barb (Celia Weston) will be visiting from Mississippi, Mitchell, who's already high-strung, switches into "barely sublimated panic" mode.  What's the source of all this consternation, especially if Barb is, as Cameron claims, the "greatest woman that ever lived"?  It turns out the greatest woman who ever lived is also "handsy." 

This trait is, of course, very funny -- cue the montage of Barb fondling Mitchell's calves after a run, or rubbing his hands while Cameron is sleeping -- but it also shed some light on Cameron.  Just to be an armchair shrink: It makes sense that Cameron, who's so (figuratively) touchy-feely, would have been raised by a mom who was so (ahem) hands-on.  Mitchell doesn't have the nerve to tell Barb that her tactile tendencies are freaking him out. Instead, Barb overhears Mitchell complaining to Cameron, "Your mother can’t keep her hands off of me and it’s creeping me out."   These two have developed a curious pattern of accidental confrontations -- remember the bike shorts episode a few weeks ago? I suppose with a partner as sensitive as Cameron, Mitchell has to pick his battles.

Dylan proved himself to be somewhat worthy of his name this episode. Not to say that he's morphed into a great poet or songwriter -- alas, neither seems to be in the cards for our Dylan -- but he is, in the very least, one sensitive dude. Though his appearances are infrequent, I've always been amused by Dylan. With his long hair, guitar and dopey demeanor, he reminds me of Nick Valentine (and Haley is nothing if not a millennial version of Malorie Keaton). After Haley unceremoniously dumps him via text message, Dylan has a minor breakdown.  "I see her face everywhere," he tells Claire, who reminds him that he is, in fact, looking at a family portrait.  Dylan eventually decides that he should take some time off from dating, and get to know himself. I'll miss Dylan, but I wonder what kind of weirdo Haley will bring home next; after all, when the comedy gods close one door, they open another, right?

Unlike last week, when each branch of the Dunphy-Pritchett-Delgado clan was running late to Manny's birthday, this episode wasn't tied together by a single unifying event or conceit.  As a result, it had a looser, more uneven quality to it. The Dylan-Phil bonding was sublimely silly, as was the confusion generated by Phil's girlie sweatshirt (the emasculation of Phil continues apace). This left Jay, Manny and Gloria with the short end of the narrative stick, and a storyline that felt a little tossed-off.

Gloria's casual relocation of her shoulder was pretty great, though.  That's all to say I'm not sure which type of "Modern Family" episode I prefer. The unified episodes -- the one with the bike shorts was actually another recent example -- are more cohesive, but they also verge on being gimmicky. The writing feels more strained, less organic. Forced to choose, I'd say I prefer my sitcoms to be low-concept, even if it's the super-high-concept episodes that have stuck with me (i.e. the "Cosby Show" where Heath gives birth to a hoagie).

How do you prefer your sitcoms:  straight up, or with a twist?

Lines of the night:

"How do we know the right Middle Eastern businessman wouldn’t treat her great."  --Alex re: Haley

"It’s got a very vibrant cowboy poetry scene."  --Cameron re: Mississippi

"She raised four kids, two barns and whole lot o’hell."  Cameron re: his mother

"You know what happens when I shop angry." --Gloria

"I’m gonna have to get my own ax. Sometimes I come in here and noodle on it." --Phil

"I was a lot like you in high school, except my hair was shorter and my guitar was a flute."  --Phil

"Why you are presenting to my mother like a baboon?" --Mitchell

"I’m never playing dumb."  --Dylan

"I need a little time to date Dylan, and I mean me, not another guy named Dylan." --Dylan (duh)

"Dollars to doughnuts it’s diverticulitis."  --Manny

"No that’s just an expression. America doesn’t have a king."  --Phil explaining Elvis to Dylan

-- Meredith Blake

Photo:  Barb (Celia Weston), Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) share a group hug. Credit: Matt Kennedy